Kansas University's football coaches will use spring practices as an important gauge moving forward to the start of the 2008 season.
Yet the running-back position, more than any other, has a huge hole in the competition right now.
Junior Jake Sharp is back after serving as a solid option in the backfield last season for the 2007 Orange Bowl champions. Angus Quigley and Carmon Boyd-Anderson are trying to bust down the door for playing time, as well.
But one big piece still is in Texas finishing up junior college - Jocques Crawford, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound horse considered one of the most important pieces of KU's 2008 recruiting class.
So, yeah, running-back repetitions will be helpful - especially with 1,000-yard rusher Brandon McAnderson gone to graduation.
But this spring, it definitely won't be the tell-all forecast.
"We'll see what (Crawford) can do once he gets here in the summer," offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. "But we want to continue to use Jake Sharp's ability in open space and find other ways to get him the ball. He's a definite big-play threat, and he had a good year for us."
Sharp, a Salina native, ran for 821 yards on 147 carries in 2007. But his touches decreased once McAnderson got rolling in Big 12 Conference play.
Numbers and simple logic say Sharp will be the natural successor to McAnderson's load. But KU's pursuit - and landing - of Crawford, the NJCAA offensive player of the year in 2007, can be seen as a sign that Sharp isn't viewed as an every-down back by the coaching staff.
Sharp shrugs it off, and doesn't believe Crawford's arrival this summer is anything but a positive.
"I don't think it's a competition. I think we'll have a heck of an arsenal," Sharp said. "I think each guy is going to get his share of carries, and I think it's going to work out great for us as a whole."
Don't forget about Quigley and Boyd-Anderson, though. Both have received their share of hype despite having a combined 41 career carries. Quigley has battled injuries, while Boyd-Anderson was highly regarded before running into the freshman wall and running out of chances early in 2007.
"He's got some things to prove," Warinner said of Boyd-Anderson. "He's got some talent, and he's a guy we like. We'll just see where he's at. : A lot of freshmen aren't ready to handle playing and competition and, week to week, the stress of getting ready. I think it caught up to him a little bit."
Warinner declined to say that playing Boyd-Anderson as a true freshman, in hindsight, was the wrong move.
"Early on, we didn't know what Brandon McAnderson was going to do, nor Jake Sharp," Warinner said. "Their roles hadn't really been that in the past."
It all worked out, of course. The Jayhawks had a strong ground game to complement its exciting passing attack led by quarterback Todd Reesing. They went 12-1 and ranked eighth nationally in total offense.
But the returning players stress that the start of spring practice March 12 signaled the end of the 2007 party. Ongoing competition just about everywhere on the offense except quarterback is a reminder that Kansas is back to square one in some aspects.
That includes running back, even though all the pieces to the puzzle have yet to arrive.
"There's still more out there to be achieved," Sharp said. "We still haven't won the Big 12, or a national title for that matter.
"This isn't the Orange Bowl team. This is a brand new team. We have to go out and prove it all over again."